June 1, 1999

Short Takes, June 1999


Here comes summer—Dads, grads, rads, and those clad in plaid! Time to stoke up the barbecue, dust off your spats and take in the zephyrs that waft your merry way! Hey, school may be out soon, bridal bouquets may be strewn, time may be measured out in coffee spoons—all because its June June June. But looking back to April, Apple Via and Grace Ouchida flew in and out of MIPDOC in Cannes with barely enough time to trumpet the cause of the IDA; Board Sec Richard Propper, a veritable globetrotter in his own right, made his annual appearance there as well. Grace, Apple and Exec Dir Betsy A. McLane jetted back and forth to oversee the IDA Seminars in New York City. Dr. McLane was also named Co-Chair, with documentary guru Erik Barnouw, of the National Advisory Board of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute.

Say, readers, it 's not too late to let yourself go and release the lists of treasured docs before the millennium's out. For inspiration, I will share with you a quote from one voter who elected Dziga's Vertov's Man with the Movie Camera as his numero uno. The quote comes from Mr. Vertov himself: "Appreciate those who invent, not those who acquire. Distinguish between the carving out of an underground tunnel, and a pleasant ride on a subway car. Resist easy profit. Let those who sow reap the fruits of their labors. Encourage the art of the bold gardeners, not that of the fruit pickers." So, bold gardeners, e-mail your cherished crop of five desert island docs to ida@artnet.net.

Canadian Docu Crews Halted at U.S. Border

According to the Toronto Star, more than 30 Canadian film and television crews have been denied entry to shoot in the United States this year. The latest to be thwarted, documentarian Kevin McMahon, had spent nearly a year negotiating with the Pentagon to gain permission to film at Strategic Air Command headquarters in Omaha. Some officials have speculated that because Toronto and Vancouver have become economically viable alternatives for American film and television producers, this stepped-up activity at the border may be a retaliatory action. Rick Perotto, business representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees in Toronto, has been monitoring the border incidents. "The reasons seem to vary from officer to officer," he told the Star. "But there's no doubt in my mind this is some kind of retribution... probably... because the Hollywood unions are angry that so much TV and film work is happening in Canada." And the real victims have been independent makers like McMahon. "The long and the short of it is that we're in a bureaucratic quagmire," McMahon said. "We can't do documentaries that involve the United States until this is resolved."

PBS to Air on United

PBS and United Airlines reached an agreement in March where PBS will supply in-flight programming as part of its PBS Alofi project. Frank Lloyd Wright, Ken Bums's latest work, will be the first of the PBS Aloft programs. PBS plans to group selected programs under a theme, such as Black History Month or Asian/Pacific Heritage Month. PBS has a similar in-flight arrangement with U.S. Airways.

Mergers in the Media: WinStar New Media Consolidates Its Businesses; Barry Diller 's USA Films Acquires Indy Stars

April was the cruelest—or coolest—month for consolidation among the scrappier players in the industry. WinStar New Media Company, Inc. brought together its television and video companies—Fox Lorber Associates, on Fiction Films and Wellspring Media—under one umbrella: WinStar TV and Video. BatTy Diller made a resounding return to film production, after a soaring success in interactive and cable television , when he announced that, through his newly created USA Networks, he would acquire longtime indy players October Films and Gramercy Pictures, along with PolyGram Video.


In response to viewer reaction to its April broadcast of Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation, Discovery Channel has set up a link on its Web site, www.discovery.com, that explains how viewers can help the Kosovo refugees... According to The Hollywood Reporter, Leon Gast , the Academy Award®-winning director of When We Were Kings, is developing a documentary on the history of basketball and its impact on American culture. Spyglass Entertainment and New Urban Entertainment will finance and produce this film, and Blue Train Entertainment will also produce. David Falk of Falk Associates Management will serve as executive producer with Dennis Brownlee of New Urban Entertainment... Also from the pages of the Hollywood Reporter: Afier a spate of controversy and legal interference, the National Film Board of Canada will release Custodian of the Hill, a documentary about Canadian politician and lawmaker Gilben Parent. The premiere of Custodian was canceled in March because of legal pressure from Parent, who invoked parliamentary privilege to stop the film's release because of certain scenes in the film. Following discussions with NFB lawyers, Commissioner Sandra MacDonald announced in April that she would release Custodian without asking for any changes, other than correcting the factual and historical errors that Parent's office had pointed out... Barry Levinson screened his work-in-progress doc, Diner Guys, at the Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore last April. The film documents the lives of a group of Levinson's high school classmates who inspired his debut film Diner.


IDA member Tracy Seretean screened her Aperture Award-winning short documentary Big Mama at a luncheon that Aperture and Eastman Kodak hosted in May. Aperture, a nonprofit corporation, annually awards a $ 10,000 cash grant to one first-time filmmaker to allow him or her to shoot a short narrative or documentary film of up to 30 minutes in length... The University Film & Video Association announced this year's Carole Fielding UFVA/UFVF Grant winners. Rachel Jones of City College of New York was awarded $1,000 for Palimpsest, and IDA member Melissa Thompson of Temple University won $1,500 for Mary, Mary Quite Contrary. The George Foster Peabody Awards for excellence in radio and television broadcasting were presented in May. The winners in the television category were: The Reckoning, CBS's Public Eye With Bryant Gumbel; Christianne Amanpour, for international reporting for CNN and for CBS's 60 Minutes:The Olympic Bribery Scondal, KTVX-TV, Salt Lake City; Frontline: Washington's Other Scandal, WCBH/Frontline, Washington Media Associates and Public Affairs Television: About Race, KRON-TV San Francisco; The Human Body, BBC and TLC; Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery WGBH-TV, Boston; Frank Lloyd Wright, Florentine Films and WETA-TV Washington; When Good Men Do Nothing, BBC and WGBH-TV Boston; American Masters: Alexander Calder, Thirteen/IVNET, New York, and Florentine Films/Sherman Pictures; Cold War, Jeremy Isaacs Productions and CNN Productions: The American Experience: Rading the Rails, The American Experience, the American History Project, Out of the Blue Productions and WGBH Educational Foundation: Dateline NBC: Checks and Balances; Christopher, WANE-TV, Fort Wayne, IN; The American Experience: America 1900, David Grubin Productions and WGBH Educational Foundation The National Headliner Awards were announced last March and Tumer Original Productions and IDA Trustee ABC News Productions were among the winners. The winners were: Documentary or Series—Turner Original Productions for Dying to Tell the Story: ABC News Productions and Lisa Zeff for As lt Happened: Tragedy over Lockerbee: and CNN for Cold War. Best of Show—Turner Original Productions for Dying to Tell the Story. Documentary or Series, Television Stations—WANE-TV, Fort Wayne, lN, Karen Hensel, for Christopher; Detroit Public Television and Fast Forward Films, Arthur Kent for A Wedding in Basra; WTVI, Charlotte, NC, Steve Crump, for Airmen and Adversity.


The New England Film and Video Festival screened its winners in April and May. The docu-winners were the following: Best Independent Film—Raise the Dead, James Rutenbeck; Best Independent Video—Where is Stephanie?, Bess O'Brien and Mary Arbuckle; Best Student Video—Searching for Go-Hyang, Nick Kurzon; Outstanding Resourcefulness Award—Between Worlds, Shawn Hainsworth; Special Jury Awards—The Apple is Delicious, George Reyes, and Theme: Murder, Martha Swetzoff; Rock of Ages: Race, Faith & Freedom on Nantucket, Harlan Reiniger, and Sin Maguillaje, Roberto Arevalo... IDA member Frieda Lee Mock and Terry Sanders's film Return With Honor took the top prize for Best Film at the Cleveland Film Festival; On the Ropes, by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan, was a runner-up. Terri Randall took the Best Documentary Short Film Award for Daughter of the Bride... Cris Roe's Pop and Me won the Audience Award—the top prize—at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival... On the Ropes and Chuck Workman's The Source, were among the finalists for The Land Grant Award at the Taos Talking Pictures Festival. Lourdes Portillo's latest doc Corpus: A Home Movie for Selena also screened there; the PBS series P.O.V was on hand to present a special screening of the film at the festival, in which invited participants at the festival's Teen Media Conference were welcomed to share their points of view about the issues raised in the film. Some of these responses will be aired on P.O.V.'s Talking Back: Digital Letters when the film airs this summer. Portillo received the festival's Cineaste Award, which celebrates diverse cultures... The South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival wrapped last March, and IDA members took three of the honors: Cass Paley won the Best Documentary Award for WADD: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes, while John Arderson and Bradley Beasley were runners up for their respective films, Secret People and Hill Stomp Hollor. Rolf Gibbs's The Last Guy to Let You Down won Best Documentary Short Award, with Elisabeth Sikes's Gimme Some Larry  taking Runner Up honors... As reported in IndieWIRE, The Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival preemed last March and concluded with a dusk-to-dawn marathon of docs, which was so anticipated that organizers moved this meta-event to a larger venue. Festival director Dimitri Eipides, who also programs for the Greek city's higher profile fall festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, included sections on new technologies and new media, as well as a series on gender and sexuality issues. The marathon included a screening of IDA member Bennett Miller's The Cruise, which went on to win the Greek Press Prize. Other winners included 98 Years, by Apostolos Karakassis (Audience Award) and Nicos Grammaticos' Nightflowers (Foreign Press Award)... The Hong Kong International Film Festival has been going through some difficulties since the handover of 1997. The Hong Kong government intends to dismantle the festival's presenter, the Provisional Urban Council, by the end of 1999, an act which could have serious repercussions for the festival. If you want to find out more about what's happening with the Hong Kong International Film Festival, and you would like to voice your support, visit the ISSFED's Web site at www.issfed.org for further information. A letter from film festival organizer/film critic Matthias Woo sited the following: "1)... there had been untoward interventions on the [festival's'] programming... totally incongruous to the intent of promoting film culture; 2)... intervention... of apolitical nature is... detrimental to... film culture and Hong Kong's international reputation; 3)... the HKIFF is the only major international film festival without a director... ;4) ... HKIFF's structure should be brought in line with all major film festivals. . . [i.e.] programming-led... [with] a board of directors [and] a director with both artistic and business responsibilities; 5)... programming autonomy and integrity is the soul of a film festival, and... the public is best served by an independent film festival composed of a staff of knowledgeable professionals."